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slim chickens.jpg Photo courtesy of Slim Chickens
Slim Chickens CEO Tom Gordon said the company "can't get idle. Not in this environment."

Slim Chickens has no plans of slowing down

Slim Chickens expects to have over 300 restaurants open by the end of this year and has 1,150 more in various stages of development. "We can't get idle," said CEO Tom Gordon.

There is no doubt fast casual chicken is having a moment. Just look at the growth of Raising Cane’s, Wingstop as evidence. Slim Chickens also belongs in that conversation, given its 2021-to-2022 sales growth exceeding 30% and unit growth at 27.4%, according to Technomic Ignite data. Further, average unit volumes are now pushing $3.8 million, also a double-digit jump from the year prior.

The company is showing no signs of losing down, closing out 2023 with a record number of openings and over 70 stores planned for this year. There are now over 250 locations open and another 1,150 agreements in the pipeline. Should all of these come to fruition, Slim Chickens’ footprint would be among the 50 biggest chains in the country.  

This recent momentum, by the way, is relatively new for the 21-year-old brand.

“It took us about a decade to get the wheels turning as we wanted them to turn,” CEO Tom Gordon said in a recent interview. “Weathering the (Covid) storm really helped. Because we were able to market effectively and continue to provide great products and services in that environment, I think we got an outsized share of attention.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been the typical challenges, however – construction delays, supply chain and labor shortages, etc., but instead of retrenching through those challenges, the company grew its corporate office to ensure operators had more support than ever.

“Five years ago, we more than doubled our corporate support center staff to focus on training, development, construction, the supply chain – everything we could do to support our franchisees. Our franchisees love that and have continued to grow. The market loves that, too,” Gordon said.

Franchisees are obviously also more willing to grow if their unit economics pan out in their favor and that is where Slim Chickens has really found a rhythm in the past couple of years. The company recently developed a new store format that has reduced costs and helped drive higher AUVs without compromising its signature offerings.

“Unit economics are huge for us. Our tier one stores have AUVs north of $3.5 million, which is a big number for the industry and our footprint,” Gordon said. “We can build our Slim Chickens for about the same price as other prototypes at some older brands, but those brands have much lower AUVs, so we’re winning this conversation and that is driving huge interest in growth.”

Slim Chickens’ AUVs are higher than Wingstops, lower than Raising Cane’s, and about on par with Zaxby’s. Compared to quick-service chicken brands, however, the chain is much higher than the category average, which is about $2.8 million. Without Chick-fil-A, the category average is about $1.8 million.

Slim Chickens also leans into its robust – but not overcomplicated – menu featuring options like the Buffalo Tender Mac Bowl Meal, tenders and wings, chicken and waffles, sandwiches and wraps, milkshakes, and what Gordon calls a category-leading sauce roster. There are 17 house sauces available, from Cayenne Ranch to Honey BBQ to Inferno.

“We have a unique profile and an amount of novelty and freshness we can deliver when we open in a new city. People are interested in getting products that are new, different, flavor forward,” Gordon said. “Not other competitor has the diversity of menu and sauces and ability to transform every meal with every bite like we do.”

This is the story Slim Chickens is trying to tell of late with a sharpened focus on marketing, including an extension into influencer campaigns. As Gordon says, “marketing is everything.” But, it’s not the only thing, he notes.

“Yes, labor is your priority. Yes, innovation. Yes, technology. We have to attack every segment of our business that will allow us to win,” he said.

Slim Chickens is working to keep its momentum –including what Gordon called “good traffic” last year – by “constantly” working on products to bring customers back and by testing technologies that not only improve margins and operations, but also guest experiences. Gordon wouldn’t get too detailed on what those tech tests entail at this point but said there were “a lot of tests going on right now.”

“We can’t get idle. Not in this environment,” he said.

“Idle” probably isn’t what anyone would think of by looking at Slim Chickens’ guidance. The company expects to have over 300 restaurants open by the end of this year and has 1,150 more in various stages of development.

“We want to be aggressive with our pace through the next decade in the U.S. and other areas of the world,” Gordon said. “We will always maintain an aggressive posture because we want to take care of our franchisees and make sure we get their restaurants open.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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